The report on birmingham.gov.uk is published

Posted on 27th May 2010 by

I’m sitting in Leeds just put the finishing touches to my speech for the Local Government Communications conference tomorrow: “Collaboration with citizens via digital technology”.  It’s amazing what you picking when sitting around.

First of all congratulations to Birmingham City Council for winning a very deserved silver in tonight’s Reputations award here for the effort that has gone into Birminghamnewsroom blog and a gold (along with the local pcts) for the Be active campaign (free swimming etc).
The theme of the conference is “Better for Less” so it’s also a very good time and place to find the report on the creation of the new Birmingham City Council website, the one that Help Me Investigate (I’m a co owner of HMI) revealed, through a Freedom of Information Request to the City Council,  had cost a “currently approved spend” of £2.8 million pounds. The same site which spurred on Birmingham folk to produce the ground breaking BCCDIY.

Here is the executive summary of the report, copied verbatim below.  You can find the pdf here, the recommendations (many) here and the information briefing here.

Update: I’m told the link to the pdf’s dont work (after all they are stored on birmingham.gov.uk.  To get at them

* http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/Index.aspx

* Set 1st drop down, ‘Meeting Body Type’, to ‘Executive’

* Set 2nd  drop down, ‘Meeting Body’ to ‘Deputy Leader’

* Set both dates to ’24/05/2010′

* Hit “Go”

* Select ‘Deputy Leader’

* Select ‘Information Briefing Web CMS Project’

There – that was easy – what a brilliant system, worth every penny.

End of update

The Executive summary says:

This was a complex project involving numerous departments, personnel and suppliers over five years. The project was all about enabling BCC to respond and adapt to the opportunities provided by the web as BCC moves forward with programmes intended to deliver major benefits internally and to all stakeholders, especially the citizens of Birmingham. All comments below should be read within this context.

1.2 There were governance and management challenges throughout this project over the last five years. Many respondents felt there was a lack of a clear and robust command and control structure, which contributed to delays and overruns. Whilst these issues have started to be addressed in the last twelve months, we nevertheless recommend a simplified and well-communicated management system for the web going forward, consisting of a Web Services Director/senior manager, a Web Manager responsible day-to-day, a more inclusive Web Steering Group, and tighter financial control.

1.3 It was generally agreed that web project management in future needs to be applied at a more senior level within BCC and Service Birmingham. The web as a whole should be seen as the pivotal channel that it is and must have a higher profile at Executive level in BCC. It was also felt that in future web projects should be service-led rather than technology-led.

1.4 Change management – in respect of both personnel and specifications – will improve if a senior project manager is in place at all times. It was generally agreed that ineffective change management contributed to the delays on this project.

1.5 Auditing and risk management – audits were performed professionally but deadlines on the project were consistently missed despite the reports of Birmingham Audit. Key risks which are identified must be given more priority. It is suggested that predicted deadlines then need to be revised with a contingency factor and promised actions for rectification must be monitored and delivered.

1.6 Financial control will be better exercised with the nomination of a dedicated project accountant, in line with best practice. All new work requested by the proposed Web Steering Group must be costed in detail and signed off from a ‘user needs’ perspective prior to sign-off by Finance and work being carried out.

1.7 The new website did not cost £2.8m as is widely reported. This figure includes many other major items which were involved in the project apart from the website and it is important that this continues to be communicated to the citizens of Birmingham, directly and via the local press.
Final Report – Web CMS Review – 03 03 10.doc Page 4/64
Web CMS Project Post Implementation Review – Final Report
February 2010

1.8 During the last two years, the Project Sponsor undertook negotiations with Service Birmingham regarding additional claimed costs by Service Birmingham on this project. It is stated by BCC that the outcome of these negotiations resulted in reductions of over £900,000 in these additional costs.

1.9 The site itself now requires all remaining content to be uploaded and we feel that it also requires a look more in keeping with the vibrant city which Birmingham is. Navigation and design could be improved as part of this process.

1.10 It is widely believed by BCC personnel that the new Content Management System (CMS) – which empowers individuals to upload content to the website and intranet – requires further work before it can be said to function effectively for its users. There are questions over the extent to which the FatWire CMS system was customised unnecessarily. The system is currently viewed as unstable by the BCC Web Team and requires remedial action.

1.11 To serve everyone, BCC’s website must be fully accessible and must also comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. Major improvements have been made but key BCC personnel believe that more still needs to be done before the Council’s stated policy is achieved. This is an action on both BCC and Service Birmingham.

1.12 With the exception of the CMS, the new website is functional and sits on an improved platform. As with all website launches, there remains work to be done to improve it and this will be a gradual and iterative process over the coming months for BCC and Service Birmingham.

1.13 The major objectives in support of the ‘Customer First’ and ‘Excellence in People Management’ Business Transformation Programmes have not yet been delivered but are expected within the month. When delivered, it is believed that these will contribute to the significant savings predicted from within business transformation.
Final Report – Web CMS Review – 03 03 10.doc Page 5/64

The report appears to have been in the system since March. It seems to be saying we could have done better and need to take more control over the web, but overall the millions (?) were well enough spent, even though our content management system ain’t up to much. What are you thoughts?

11 Responses to The report on birmingham.gov.uk is published

  1. Jon Bounds says:

    “It is widely believed by BCC personnel that the new Content Management System (CMS) – which empowers individuals to upload content to the website and intranet – requires further work before it can be said to function effectively”

    fairly damming that, really.

  2. there has to be a strategic communications and business case case for the council to cut its losses, ditch the site, write off the contrators, publish all the inevitable embarrasing internal emails and adopt BCC DIY, the subsitutue site built by volunteers in a few days reusing the council content.

    this would gain the council and Birmingham remarkable credit around the web as a world first and most importanly, give citizens and staff an easy to use reliable website. could probbaly be done beneth the EU tendering limit.

    the council leaders could speak on platforms around the world about brimingham’s crowd sourced web miracle.

  3. Mike Cummins says:

    FWIW the link to the pdf file worked for me.

    This report should become required reading for any organisation planning non-trivial IT projects.

    It also validates the decision by all (that I know of) courier companies to do IT in-house. It is the only way you can guarantee sufficient control.

  4. Socitm’s experience of working with council web teams, arising from our Better Connected and Website Takeup Service activities, tells us the web is still hugely undervalued by top management running councils, despite the fact it can, if managed properly, deliver volume services much, much, more cheaply than phone. Therefore heartened to see these statements in the summary about governance and management, the boring-but-important bit: ‘…..we.. recommend a simplified and well-communicated management system for the web going forward, consisting of a Web Services Director/senior manager, a Web Manager responsible day-to-day, a more inclusive Web Steering Group.’ and ‘The web as a whole should be seen as the pivotal channel that it is and must have a higher profile at Executive level in BCC’

  5. Adrian Short says:

    This is obviously a complete car-crash project. I don’t have time to untangle the whole thing but a few points stand out:

    12.5 The authors of this report didn’t have access to the CMS for “technical and security” reasons so had to rely on “testimony” from users in their evaluation. Would you evaluate a construction project like this, by simply talking to people who had visited the building without going there yourself?

    12.6 The CMS is so slow for content creators that clicks can take from 30 seconds to “several minutes” to be registered.

    12.7.4 Even though one objective of the project was to unite all BCC sites under a single CMS, BCC had to use WordPress to create http://birminghamnewsroom.com/ because the FatWire CMS used for the main website didn’t support RSS or social media features.

    12.5.1 Considerable customisation of the core CMS code was done which is now being removed as it isn’t compatible with a new version of the software. Clearly there was no thought given to whether or how these changes could be integrated as the main line of development moved forward. Reading between the lines it seems that they just forked it.

    But the weirdest stuff is in section 12.1 on “Design”. The “design” of the website seems to have been viewed as something separate from its platform and functionality. Having “upgraded” the backend, people are surprised that the front end has stayed essentially similar. The report recommends hiring a designer to improve the front-end templates.

    Such an anti-holistic approach cannot fail but to produce poor results. It’s like saying you’re going to design the shell of a car separate from its engineering, performance, cost and most importantly, customer expectations and requirements.

    There is no effective separation between front-end design and back-end infrastructure. What a site does, how it does it and how it looks are inseparably part of the whole experience and should dictate the underlying infrastructure, not be determined by it or pasted on after the fact. While you *can* give a complex website a new lick of paint it’s ultimately a shallow process that doesn’t address any of the fundamental issues.

  6. John Heaven says:

    (I’m writing here in a personal capacity, by the way.)

    Firstly, it’s unclear about who the independent party that wrote the report is. It’s signed by Leigh Evans, and a quick Google reveals this from the Birmingham Post from September 2009, before this report was commissioned:

    ‘[Glyn] Evans said he had asked a “truly independent” internet expert, Leigh Evans, who is no relation, to give his view of the new website.

    ‘The international web strategy consultant wrote: “The council’s new internet presence is impressive. Every page of the new site loads much faster than I would have expected, making it a pleasure to use.”’ http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2009/09/10/birmingham-city-council-says-website-should-be-judged-on-value-not-features-65233-24659384/

    Secondly, I’ve read quite a bit of the report and you quite quickly realise that its remit (p. 7) is to compare the website to the scoping documents; so it doesn’t really question wider issues like how the brief was arrived at, how the project was commissioned, whether local people and the “Twitterati” were involved enough, etc. Even implementing all of its recommendations would not mean a web 2.0 website or come anywhere near realising the ideals of involving citizens in service redesign — it would result in a one-way communication tool and a system for managing the (very complicated) job of ensuring that 53,000 staff can publish stuff on the web. That’s fine, but we should be clear about it.

  7. […] [from Podnosh] The report on birmingham.gov.uk is published | Podnosh […]

  8. […] this cultural shift: the Freedom of Information Act release of a report into the outrage that was Birmingham City Council’s web site revamp project.  This project ran to nearly £3 million pounds, involved hundreds of people across numerous […]

  9. whateverhappened says:

    errr..have you been to bccdiy.com recently? forgot to pay for the domain name? The idea that BCCDIY was going to persist, as implied by contributors above and was a new way for the “people’s website” was nieve and always laughable…

  10. Nick Booth says:

    Hello whatever happened – have you tried http://bccdiy.co.uk/

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